Mass Effect: Andromeda’s array of strange and incompetent facial animations are now so well-documented that they already seem to be a part of gaming lore. It’s been written off by plenty, which is a shame – once you can live with its jankiness, Andromeda is actually a pretty good game.
While the landscapes and scenery of the Andromeda Galaxy are usually captivating, the facial animations belong on the other end of the spectrum. It’s especially bad for Sarah Ryder, who seems to forever be either grimacing or storing food in her cheeks for winter. Bizarrely, the female characters receive the brunt of the jank; most male characters are untouched, though hardly realistic. Addison’s blank stare and emotionless expression is already a meme.
So, after completing the story and ending up with Cora (she has nice hair), I have one question.
Why are the sex scenes in Mass Effect: Andromeda animated so much better than the rest of the game?
I can’t believe I’m about to analyse a sex scene in a video game, but here it goes.
During the romantic encounter with Cora, Ryder walks through the door and a spike in animation calibre is immediately obvious, so much so that I had to sit up and pay attention and not because I am a teenage boy who doesn’t understand how a search engine works. It was so confusing that I wasn’t even watching the act itself, moreso looking to see how the models interacted with each other. It actually, as weird as it to say, looked quite good.
When the pair greet, Ryder’s eyebrows emote in a believable (but pretty slimy) way. Likewise, Cora’s raising of her shoulders is a far cry from the sometimes robotic animation found throughout the game. Their expressions before kissing even look like they might have been mo-cap – the smiles and, erm, “looks” aren’t seen anywhere else in Andromeda. Even the kissing itself is halfway decent. I’m not going through the next steps of the scene; hopefully you get the gist.
Why is it that special care seems to have been taken with Andromeda’s sex scenes? When searching for a reason, I couldn’t stop thinking about a series of tweets by animator Jonathan Cooper, who actually worked on the very first Mass Effect.
The lowest quality scenes may not even be touched by hand. To cover this, an algorithm is used to generate a baseline quality sequence.
Cooper suggests that such a large and expansive game would be hard animate in painstaking detail, so an algorithm takes care of the basics. That’s what you see for a lot of Andromeda, the bare minimum. Perhaps knowing that sex scenes in video games are almost always laughably bad, Bioware paid extra attention to those in Andromeda so that it didn’t go down in that infamous crowd.
It isn’t that hard to believe, either. During sidequests and some non-essential NPC sidequests, the animations are at the worst. When the game is going big, however, the quality rises and its scenes become more impactful. Maybe the idea was to cover the essentials first and get around to the polish later, something Bioware evidently couldn’t follow through with in time for its hurried release date.
Or maybe I’m looking too much into a series of polygons rubbing on each other and going “mmm”. Who knows.